Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is a plant-based chemical building block that could potentially substitute petroleum-based equivalents, yet ecotoxicological data of this compound is currently limited. In this study, the effects of HMF on the reproduction and survival of Daphnia magna were assessed through validated ecotoxicological tests. The mechanism of toxicity was determined by analysis of transcriptomic responses induced by exposure to different concentrations of HMF using RNA sequencing. HMF exerted toxicity to D. magna with an EC50 for effects on reproduction of 17.2 mg/l. HMF exposure affected molecular pathways including sugar and polysaccharide metabolism, lipid metabolism, general stress metabolism and red blood cell metabolism, although most molecular pathways affected by HMF exposure were dose specific. Hemoglobin genes, however, responded in a sensitive and dose-related manner. No induction of genes involved in the xenobiotic metabolism or oxidative stress metabolism pathway could be observed, which contrasted earlier observations on transcriptional responses of the terrestrial model Folsomia candida exposed to the same compound in a similar dose. We found 4189 orthologue genes between D. magna and F. candida, yet only twenty-one genes of those orthologues were co-regulated in both species. The contrasting transcriptional responses to the same compound exposed at a similar dose between D. magna and F. candida indicates limited overlap in stress responses among soil and aquatic invertebrates. The dose-related expression of hemoglobin provides further support for using hemoglobin expression as a biomarker for general stress responses in daphnids.